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Between Public and Private

Yesterday saw BPP University College announced their 2012 fees are set at £5,000. This could be a game changer. It is the first announcement from the David Willetts-endorsed ‘new wave’ of private providers, putting BPP under a considerable amount of scrutiny.

Off-quota places – another unforced HE policy error?

This morning David Willetts took the airwaves to float the idea of ‘off-quota’ places at university. Not a new idea by any means, but an interesting indication of the direction of travel for the HE White Paper which most now expect in the first half of June. On the one hand, there is a sound political argument for leaking out policy initiatives in this way; it can have the effect of softening up the ground for when the big one drops later on.

But David Willetts has underestimated the toxicity of a policy like this which touches a very raw nerve indeed. Still wounded by the fees and funding settlement, this policy will feel like a kick in the teeth to those still clinging on to the idea that access to HE should never depend on the ability to pay. The ‘free at the point of use’ principle, still hanging on by its finger-nails, ensured that there was always going to be the greatest strength of feeling against the deep cuts to the teaching grant. The ensuing high fees for many felt like the sad, but necessary consequence of this – softened by continued commitment not to charge up-front fees.

The winning move is not to play: Game Theory and the Willetts funding model

During a speech at the Universities UK Spring Conference, David Willetts (UK Secretary of State for Universities) reiterated his warnings about the high potential cost to the taxpayer of universities electing to charge fees reflecting the full range of that which is permitted to them. It is now an open secret that the new funding model for universities is certain to cost the taxpayer more within this parliament, and is very likely never to cost any less than the current model. Bearing this in mind, Willetts has warned senior university staff that money may be taken from other university income streams (for instance the research budget) in order to be able to fund the additional loans that would be required to meet these fees.